SEGH Articles

Zoo Elephants Aid Wild counterparts in the Kruger National Park

04 November 2016
Eight zoo elephants from Knowsley Safari Park and Twycross Zoo have been contributing to work that is being carried out to reduce Human-Elephant Conflict surrounding the Kruger National Park.

Eight zoo elephants from Knowsley Safari Park and Twycross Zoo have been contributing to work that is being carried out to reduce Human-Elephant Conflict surrounding the Kruger National Park. This unique, interdisciplinary project involves environmental geochemistry, plant science, and animal health between a range of partners including BGS and the University of Nottingham (UoN) through the joint Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (http://britgeopeople.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/are-land-use-decisions-by-african.html).

The working hypothesis is that the elephants in this study group originally from the Kruger National Park are deficient in phosphorus, owing to a deficiency in the (soil and) forage. This drives the elephants to supplement their phosphorus from the water, soil and forage on land surrounding a phosphate mine in close proximity to the National Park. En-route to the phosphorus mine, elephant incursion into nearby human settlements has resulted in human-elephant conflict, causing risk of injury and lost income. The results of the project may help to inform  key locations in the elephants’ home range where mineral-supplemented forage or mineral licks may be placed to reduce the drive to seek additional sources of phosphorus, thereby reducing human-elephant conflict. Samples (hair, toenail, blood and urine) from the UK elephants will be used to validate their possible use as biomarkers of mineral status in the wild: This is a brilliant example of the contribution captive animals can make to directly benefit research on their wild counterparts.

 

 

Five UK zoos have kindly agreed to assist with and contribute samples to this research with each zoo being visited four times throughout the year to collect necessary samples from the elephants and from items which the elephants consume from their environments in the zoos. Biological samples required include toenails, faecal samples, serum and tail hair. Environmental samples include all food items (browse, hay, grass, pellets and fruit and vegetables) consumed and soil and water samples to assess the influence of geochemistry on dietary intake and land use decisions. These will be analysed for “essential mineral” content (e.g. zinc, iron) to estimate dietary intake and possible seasonal changes in browse, grass and hay over the year. These data will be related to mineral measurements in the elephants’ biological samples to validate methodologies for use and comparison to wild elephants. 

In June, the second set of UK sample collection took place at Knowsley Safari Park, having commenced a first seasonal cycle in April at that facility. It was especially exciting to collect a longitudinal toenail sample from one individual that will be analysed by spatial analysis using techniques such as laser ablation coupled to ICP-MS or ion beam analysis to give an indication of mineral status over time in that elephant. We would like to thank all the elephant team at Knowsley Safari Park for their assistance with procuring samples and enthusiasm for the research and of course the elephants for their ongoing cooperation. We then moved on to Twycross Zoo for the first very successful sample collection at this facility. We would like to thank all of the elephant team at Twycross Zoo, especially Team Leader Andy Durham, and the veterinary team for their assistance.

Funding

Thanks to the NERC Envision Doctoral Training Programme, the Hermes Trust and Royal Society International Exchange scheme. The project is based on a Centre for Environmental Geochemistry collaboration between the Inorganic Geochemistry (Dr Michael Watts) and Stable Isotopes teams (Professor Melanie Leng) at BGS and Schools of Veterinary (Dr Lisa Yon) and Biosciences (Professor Martin Broadley & Professor Simon Langley-Evans) at the University of Nottingham. The collaboration is further strengthened by partners in five UK zoos and with partners in South Africa who have been studying elephant populations there for the past two decades, tracking elephant movements using GPS and GMS to better understand their habitat use.  In addition, Dr Ellen Dierenfeld (E.S.Dierenfeld Nutrition Consulting, LLC) is an internationally renowned expert on elephant nutrition and a co-investigator on this project.

I am very excited having started my PhD full time in October, having contributed to activities over the summer months in advance. I left my previous employment at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), where I was Nutrition and Research Officer at London and Whipsnade Zoos for the past 4 years. My role included maintaining accurate diet records for all the animals within the collection, reviewing animal diets based on clinical need, working with procurement to source the myriad of food items needed to feed a zoo and working with keepers to implement diet changes. I continue to be a Research Advisor for the BIAZA Elephant Focus Group and aid the EAZA Elephant TAG Chair with the strategic planning of the TAG giving input into the direction of the group. This experience has put me in touch with the global captive elephant community and given me an understanding as to the work zoos can do to benefit wild counterparts. I look forward to starting this new challenge, collaborating with several UK zoos to directly advance field research and to employ a multi-disciplinary approach to the PhD research question – “Are land-use decisions made by elephants influenced by geochemistry?”

by Fiona Sach, PhD Student, NERC Envision DTP, BGS & University of Nottingham

More information will follow at:
http://www.environmentalgeochemistry.org/research/BiochemicalCycling.html 
https://www.knowsleysafariexperience.co.uk/ 
@KnowsleySafari, facebook.com/knowsleysafari 

 

Keep up to date

Submit Content

Members can keep in touch with their colleagues through short news and events articles of interest to the SEGH community.

Science in the News

Latest on-line papers from the SEGH journal: Environmental Geochemistry and Health

  • Earthworms and vermicompost: an eco-friendly approach for repaying nature’s debt 2020-01-23

    Abstract

    The steady increase in the world’s population has intensified the need for crop productivity, but the majority of the agricultural practices are associated with adverse effects on the environment. Such undesired environmental outcomes may be mitigated by utilizing biological agents as part of farming practice. The present review article summarizes the analyses of the current status of global agriculture and soil scenarios; a description of the role of earthworms and their products as better biofertilizer; and suggestions for the rejuvenation of such technology despite significant lapses and gaps in research and extension programs. By maintaining a close collaboration with farmers, we have recognized a shift in their attitude and renewed optimism toward nature-based green technology. Based on these relations, it is inferred that the application of earthworm-mediated vermitechnology increases sustainable development by strengthening the underlying economic, social and ecological framework.

    Graphic abstract

  • Plasticizers and bisphenol A in Adyar and Cooum riverine sediments, India: occurrences, sources and risk assessment 2020-01-23

    Abstract

    Adyar and Cooum, the two rivers intersecting Chennai city, are exposed to serious pollution due to the release of large quantities of dumped waste, untreated wastewater and sewage. Sediments can act as repository for emerging organic contaminants. Hence, we have monitored the occurrence and risk associated with plasticizers [six phthalic acid esters (PAEs), bis(2-ethyl hexyl adipate) (DEHA)] and bisphenol A (BPA) in surface riverine sediments of Adyar and Cooum rivers from residential/commercial, industrial and electronic waste recycling sites. Σ7plasticizers (PAEs + DEHA) in the Adyar riverine sediment (ARS) and Cooum riverine sediment (CRS) varied between 51.82–1796 and 28.13–856 ng/g, respectively. More than three-fourth of Σ7plasticizers came from bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), in accordance with the high production and usage of this compound. BPA varied between 10.70–2026 and 7.58–1398 ng/g in ARS and CRS, respectively. Average concentrations of plasticizers and BPA were four times higher in electronic waste (e-waste) recycling sites when compared with industrial and residential/commercial sites. BPA and DEHP showed a strong and significant correlation (R2 = 0.7; p < 0.01) in the e-waste sites thereby indicating common source types. Sites present at close proximity to raw sewage pumping stations contributed to 70% of the total BPA observed in this study. For the derived pore water concentration of plasticizers and BPA, the ecotoxicological risk has been found to be higher in ARS over CRS. However, sediment concentrations in all the sites of ARS and CRS were much below the recommended serious risk concentration for human (SRChuman) and serious risk concentration for ecotoxicological (SRCeco).

  • Distribution of metal(loid)s in particle size fraction in urban soil and street dust: influence of population density 2020-01-18

    Abstract

    Assessment of street dust is an invaluable approach for monitoring atmospheric pollution. Little information is available on the size distribution of contaminants in street dusts and urban soils, and it is not known how the population density would influence them. This research was carried out to assess the size distribution of trace metal(loid)s in street dust and urban soil, and to understand how population density might influence the size-resolved concentration of metal(loid)s. Three urban areas with a high, medium and low population density and a natural area were selected and urban soil and street dust sampled. They were fractionated into 8 size fractions: 2000–850, 850–180, 180–106, 106–50, 50–20, 20–10, 10–2, and < 2 µm. The concentration of Pb, Zn, Cu, Cd, Cr, Ni, As, and Fe was determined, and enrichment factor and grain size fraction loadings were computed. The results indicated that the concentration of Pb, Zn, Cu, Cd, and Cr was highly size dependent, particularly for particles < 100 µm, especially for street dust. Low concentrations of Ni and As in street dust and urban soil were size and population density independent. Higher size dependency of the metals concentration and the higher degree of elemental enrichment in the street dust fractions than the urban soils indicate higher contribution of human-induced pollution to the dust. Findings also confirm the inevitability of size fractionation when soils or dusts are environmentally assessed, particularly in moderately to highly polluted areas. Otherwise, higher concentrations of certain pollutants in fine-sized particles might be overlooked leading to inappropriate decisions for environmental remediation.